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What To Expect at an AA Meeting

Updated: Oct 24, 2023

If you have a drinking problem and you’ve decided to conquer your alcohol addiction, congratulations! Acknowledging you have a problem is the first step to recovery. If drinking alcohol has become more than an occasional habit or is impacting areas of your life, you may have a substance abuse issue.

If you’ve ever wondered about alcoholics anonymous, or you’re considering attending an AA meeting for the first time, this guide will let you know what to expect. Showing up to your first AA meeting can feel intimidating.

It’s not uncommon for people to feel guilt or embarrassment, but the truth is, most people at meetings have had similar feelings. There’s no shame in getting help; rest assured that AA groups provide a safe support group and a non-judgmental community.

This guide will cover frequently asked questions about what to expect at AA meetings and provide alternatives to AA, including a convenient online sobriety app with on-demand 24/7 support. Keep reading to learn more.

Types of AA Meetings

A chairperson kicks AA meetings off, usually with a preamble reading, introductions to welcome new attendees, and a review of the 12 steps, otherwise known as “The Big Book.” We’ll dive into what that means, but let’s cover the different types of meetings.

First off, meetings can be closed meetings or open meetings. It’s a good idea to ask ahead of time if a meeting is open or closed. Additionally, there are a few common meeting formats we’ll discuss.

Open AA Meetings: Most AA meetings are open, meaning anyone can attend, whether you have a drinking problem, are there to observe, or your presence is a sign of support to someone.

Closed AA Meetings: These meetings are only for those in alcohol recovery. Attendance is restricted to people with a drinking problem who want to stop drinking.

Common AA Meeting Formats

The meetings' format varies, depending on the chairperson, and can be structured differently. Below are some examples of common meeting formats you can expect.

ID Meeting: This is one of the most common types of meetings and involves members sharing their personal stories. Typical discussion points include what life was like before AA and how it’s changed.

Round Robin Format: This type of AA meeting includes a 45 to 60-minute session of sharing around the room. These resemble open discussion meetings.

Single Speaker Format: This meeting is limited to a single speaker, who typically talks for 45 minutes. Sober birthdays are often celebrated afterward by passing out chips as milestones.

Speaker/Sharing Combo Format: This is a hybrid type of AA meeting; the speaker holds the floor for the first half hour, and the last 15 minutes are reserved for sharing.

Combination of Big Book Study/Speaker/Sharing Format:

These structured AA meetings involve the chairperson conducting a 10-minute reading from the Big Book, followed by a 20-minute speaker, and the remainder is a sharing session for attendees.

These are some common AA meeting formats you could experience if you attend. Remember, there’s no obligation to share; if you’re more comfortable being an observer, this is completely acceptable.

What Is Required To Become an AA Member?

The only requirement to become an AA member is the desire to quit drinking. There are no forms to fill out, no applications, and zero costs. You’re of your own free will to attend as many meetings as you like. It’s an anonymous meeting, and if you’ve decided to quit drinking, you are welcome to attend AA and become a member.

Although, if you’re trying to quit drinking and don’t feel AA is the right fit for you, consider other support programs, such as an online recovery program. Beating addiction in isolation decreases your chances for recovery.

What’s the 12-Step Program?

The AA program uses a guide framed in the Big Book of AA. This Big Book breaks down 12 steps as a path to sobriety. This 12-step program touches on emotional, mental, and spiritual reflection and behavior change. The 12-step program is the cornerstone of the AA program.

Who Goes to AA Meetings?

The wide variety of people who attend AA meetings may surprise you. Attendees include people of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds. Alcohol use disorder (AUD) doesn’t discriminate against social classes.

Did you know that AA was started in 1935 by a successful wall street stockbroker and a surgeon? It’s true. They couldn’t find the help they needed — so they created it!

Conversely, others attending AA meetings are from humble backgrounds or have lost it all due to drinking. Some are mandated to be at AA meetings, due to consequences of drinking, such as a DUI conviction.

Unfortunately, alcohol abuse is so common that one in five American adults has lived with a relative who suffers from alcoholism. You’re not alone, and finding the right program for you and your life can help you with your addiction.

Are AA Meetings Accessible?

Meetings are typically held in community centers, local churches, treatment centers, and even office buildings. Alcoholics Anonymous began in Akron, Ohio, but it is far-reaching today. With over 123,000 AA meetings around the globe, AA literature has been translated into many languages.

How Effective Is AA?

AA can be highly effective; one study showed one of the main reasons AA programs work is the emotional support and real-life, practical strategies that fellow members share to abstain from drinking.

Other programs can offer the same kind of support on your terms. Keep reading to learn about alternatives to AA.

AA Alternatives

For some, AA is exactly what they need to beat alcohol addiction. Others favor a program that’s 100 percent online. Meet Sober Sidekick, the free sobriety app used by over 150,000 people supporting each other in a welcoming community.

Here are some key aspects of Sobriety Sidekick:

  • Sobriety Counter

  • 24/7 AA Meetings

  • Give-To-Receive Support

  • Messaging

  • SAMHSA’s National Helpline

  • Daily Motivations Delivered

  • Professional Help, If Needed

Some people join Sober Sidekick alongside being an AA member to have 24/7 support on demand. Others prefer the convenience of the Sober Sidekick app, as logging onto your mobile phone daily promotes accountability. Also, the community extends far outside your local neighborhood.

Outside of AA and Sober Sidekick, other addiction treatment and support groups are available. Inpatient and outpatient treatment facilities are also options to explore. You can get more information and resources on the Sober Sidekick app.

What Doesn’t Happen at AA Meetings

We’ve covered the basics of what happens at AA meetings and what you can expect. There are lots of myths about AA that aren’t true. For this reason, it’s worth covering what doesn’t happen at AA meetings!

Here are a few things that won’t happen at AA meetings and what AA is not:

  • You may be invited to talk at AA meetings, but you’re not required to share. You can simply observe and decline to speak.

  • AA is not a religious program but includes a spiritual aspect. It has no religious nor political affiliations of any kind — the steps instruct you to turn your life over to a higher power; the language is “God as you understand Him.”

  • AA does not keep records or case histories or keep track of you. It’s anonymous.

  • You won’t get recruited to go to AA or be asked to recruit anyone else.

  • No one will pressure you to come back to meetings. You can drop in at meetings and don’t need to reserve a spot.

Alcohol and Mental Health

As you evaluate your relationship with alcohol, it’s important to understand the root cause of your alcohol addiction. Some people self-medicate through substance use because they have an unresolved or undiagnosed mental health issue; there’s a high rate of substance abuse among people suffering from a mental health condition.

In fact, 37 percent of people who abuse alcohol reported having at least one mental illness. If you are struggling with your mental health, consider contacting a therapist. You could benefit from counseling, or a treatment program, as a part of your addiction recovery.

What To Do Next

If you’re suffering from alcohol addiction, don’t delay seeking treatment. Finding the right support group is the next best step after quitting alcohol.

Download the Sober Sidekick App today to get immediate support and learn more about other resources to help you through your sobriety journey.


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